Last updated: February 19. 2013 3:41PM - 264 Views

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HANOVER TWP. ?? She never eats a meal there and is too busy working to fall asleep.

But the endless hours she spends at Northeast Gymnastics makes Elena Lagoski feels as if she lives there.

??This is like my home,? Lagoski said. ??I spend more time here than I do at my own house.?

That could lead to a life so lonely for a gymnast, it almost seems isolated.

Just ask Nikki Lyons, who graduated from Crestwood High School with a gymnastics scholarship to national power LSU in hand.

She spent most of her high school days perfecting her routines while reaching the sport??s elite level.

??I actually missed my senior prom,? said Lyons, now an instructor at Northeast Gymnastics. ??I had a meet and I was already committed to LSU, so I had to go to it.?

Lagoski admits she may have missed a lot as a high school senior at Wyoming Valley West, as she pursued her dream of landing a college gymnastics scholarship. It came true when Lagoski recently gave a verbal commitment to sign with Michigan State next year.

But her chase sometimes left her feeling like a lone ranger.

??I had a lot of friends who did gymnastics with me when I was younger,? Lagoski said. ??They quit. They wanted to do field hockey, they wanted to go out with their friends. I was the only one who stuck with it.

??Now, we barely even know each other.?

She??s not the first, or last, gymnast who feels as if she??s out on an island.

??You do feel isolated when you??re a gymnast,? said Paige Parsnik, a freshman at Coughlin High School who captured her age group at the Pink Meet in Philadelphia earlier this year. ??My friends know how many hours that go into gymnastics, how many days I go (to practice). (But) gymnastics is all about dedication. If you??re not dedicated to the sport, you shouldn??t do it in the first place.?

For those who make gymnastics their life-long passion, this segregation from school sports is an accepted part of the territory.

Still, some can??t help wondering if this seclusion would change if their chosen sport included some school spirit.

??I think about it a lot,? said junior Christina Slack, who drives more than an hour daily from Jim Thorpe to practice at the Northeast facility in Hanover Twp. ??I??ve always thought, ??Why don??t they have a team??

Deep down, they realize that idea??s probably impractical.

Some of them believe insurance costs would skyrocket, especially in a sport where knee, ankle and lower leg injuries are most common.

And it may be just as costly for school districts to provide the proper apparatus gymnasts require to properly train.

??A lot of gyms don??t have the pit that we have (at Northeast),? Lyons said. ??It??s not something you??d throw together at your high school gym. They??d have to build a separate building just for gymnastics.?

Would it be worth it financially?

Probably not.

Some area gymnasts admit they not only have difficulty finding schoolmates to practice with, but can??t find many classmates who can even relate to the sport.

Back when she was working toward graduating from the old Bishop O??Reilly High School in 1983, Northeast Gymnastics coach Lori Dexter practiced with the Parkettes in Allentown while earning a gymnastics scholarship to Iowa.

??Nobody knew what I did,? Dexter said.

Things haven??t changed much in 30 years.

??My accomplishments aren??t as recognized as much as people who play school sports,? said gymnast Gianna Plaksik, a sophomore at Wyoming Seminary. ??I feel it??s a lot more time-consuming than high school sports. We practice 3½, 4 hours every day except Sunday.?

She said there??s only one other Sem schoolmate who can relate, and that??s fellow sophomore and gymnast Charlotte Brecher.

??But they don??t do it for the recognition,? Dexter said. ??We??re all-year-??round, just because you??re physically building up the high skill level. I think it would be just too difficult for high schools to have high-level, competitive programs.?

So they practice countless hours in relative obscurity, walking the hallways of schools feeling alone while motivated by self-satisfaction instead of stardom.

??That??s the only social life I get, going to school,? Lagoski said. ??I??m at practice until 6:30 every night. It makes me feel different from everybody else. No one understands how difficult it is. They talk about how dedicated you have to be to play football.

??You don??t know what dedication is unless you??ve been doing this.?

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